‘Stories are the lifeblood of any society… To censor our stories is to destroy all that is rich and cultured within a society’ – Roma Tearne
UPDATE 8 August 2019: Writer Shakthika Sathkumara has finally been released on bail after more than four months in prison. We wll be continuing to call for charges to be dropped ahead of his next hearing on 10 December, Human Rights Day.
On 1 April 2019, award-winning writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested in Sri Lanka in connection with a short story he had published on Facebook. Sathkumara has since been charged with inciting religious hatred and violating international human rights law.
The short story in question, ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), due to be published as part of a collection later this year, has provoked hostility from Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka who allege that it is derogatory and defamatory. If the investigation is completed and he is charged under the above provisions of law, Sathkumara could face up to 10 years in prison.
Sathkumara has now been detained and separated from his young family for over four months. Following the rejection of bail applications on numerous occasions, his lawyers filed a bail application with the High Court. On 5 August 2019, the High Court granted bail but, at the time of writing, Sathkumara remains in detention.
English PEN and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice have joined forces to campaign for Sathkumara’s release here in the UK, on the grounds that he is being held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Our colleagues at Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience in July 2019, and he has also received support from artist-activist Gianluca Constatini aka Channel Draw.
Fellow writers have also added their support to the campaign, including author Anthony Horowitz who has written to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to call for Sathkumara’s release.
Ahead of Shakthika Sathkumara’s next hearing on 6 August, critically acclaimed Sri Lankan born author and artist Roma Tearne has also added her voice to the call for his release, in her piece ‘Sri Lanka Unchecked‘:
Stories are the lifeblood of any society. Through stories we learn the difference between what should and should not be. Narrative is the moral compass that creates a decent life. To censor our stories is to destroy all that is rich and cultured within a society.
The freedom of expression enjoyed by those living in this beautiful land has been repressed for many decades, but it is within the powers of the current government to offer change. To show mercy to one innocent writer and to release him.
Award-winning writer and lawyer Philippe Sands, President of English PEN, has also spoken out in support of Shakthika Sathkumara:
We stand in total solidarity with Shakthika Sathkumara, for his right of freedom of expression at all times and in all forms.
Please add your voice today.
On 5 August 2019, after more than four months in detention, writer Shakthika Sathkumara was granted bail by the High Court in Sri Lanka. However, he currently remains detained and the charges against him have not yet been dropped. Please help us to keep up the pressure ahead of his next hearing, tomorrow 6 August.
Spread the word
Share PEN’s call to action with friends and colleagues and on social media with the hashtag #FreeShakthika.
Show your support
Join PEN and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice in showing your support for Shakthika Sathkumara. Send a message of support, or share a photo with this campaign print-out or your own #FreeShakthika sign.
Please include the hashtag #FreeShakthika and tag @englishpen and @SLCampaign or send via email@example.com
Write to the authorities
Please send appeals urging the Sri Lankan authorities to:
- Release award-winning novelist Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and unconditionally;
- Drop their baseless investigation of Shakthika Sathkumara;
- Take steps to safeguard freedom of expression in line with international standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a State Party.
Send appeals to:
Mr. Maithripala Sirisena
Fax :- +94 112 430590
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Fax: +94 112 575310 / +94 112 574143
Minister of Justice & Prison Reforms
Ms. Thalatha Atukorale
Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms – Sri Lanka
Superior Courts Complex
Fax: +94 112 435 294
Mr. Dappula de Livera
Fax: +94 112 436421
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Dr. Deepika Udagama – Chairperson
Fax: +94 112 505591
Send copies to the Embassy of Sri Lanka in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/srilanka.
Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Sri Lanka, calling on them to raise Shakthika Sathkumara’s case in bilateral fora.
Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.